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International Journal of Educational Development 21 (2001) 481­497

Multigrade teaching: towards an international research and policy agenda

Angela W. Little


Education and International Development Group, Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL, UK

Abstract Despite its prevalence in many educational systems, multigrade teaching remains invisible. In the global effort to achieve education for all in the post-Dakar decade the needs of multigrade teachers, classes and schools must be addressed. The paper (i) explores the meaning of the term multigrade teaching in developing and industrialised countries and identifies a range of conditions under which it arises; (ii) synthesises knowledge of the practice of and research on multigrade teaching; and (iii) proposes an international agenda for future research on and dissemination of policy and practice. The agenda underlines the need for context-specific questions and comparisons, more awareness of the prevalence and challenges of multigrade teaching, more research on the practices and training needs of multigrade teaching and the exploration of synergies between teachers, curriculum, assessment and classroom organisation. It is suggested that knowledge of multigrade teaching strategies is needed by all teachers and not simply those in classes designated as `multigrade'. 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Education for all; Multigrade classes; Multigrade teachers; Multigrade schools

1. Introduction An active commitment must be made to removing educational disparities. Underserved groups--the poor; street and working children; rural and remote populations; nomads and migrant workers; indigenous peoples; ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities; refugees; those displaced by war; and people under occupation--should not suffer any discrimination in access to learning opportunities. (World Declaration on Education for All, WCEFA, 1990, Article 4, clause 4)

* Tel.: +44-20-7612-6623. E-mail address: [email protected] (A.W. Little).

We . . . commit ourselves to . . . ensuring that by 2015 all children, with special emphasis on girls and children in difficult circumstances and from ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality. (World Education Forum, 2000, The Dakar Framework for Action, para 7(ii)) At the beginning of the twenty-first century, learning, teaching and curricula in all systems of formal education are based on age-specific groups of learners following curriculum grades sequentially. It has not always been so. `The age-stratified culture in which we live is largely a product of the last two hundred years' (Pratt, 1986:111). And in his discussion of the origins of the educational

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A.W. Little / International Journal of Educational Development 21 (2001) 481­497

terms class and curriculum, Hamilton (1989:37) explains how, in medieval schools in Europe, teachers taught students at `all levels of competence and, accordingly, organised their teaching largely on an individual basis'. Today, all systems of formal education are differentiated by age and grade. In general, the ideal `grade' group is seen to comprise students whose ages span no more than one year. The monograde, age-specific sequential class is considered to be the ideal way of organising teaching and learning. Many teaching and learning arrangements, however, deviate from this ideal. Many teaching groups, and particularly those in systems that have yet to achieve Education for All (EFA), are best described as multigrade rather than monograde. The purpose of this paper is threefold. It will (i) explore the meaning of the term multigrade teaching in developing and industrialised countries and will identify a range of conditions under which it arises; (ii) synthesise reviews of the practice of and research on multigrade teaching; and (iii) propose an international agenda for future research on and dissemination of practice. 2. Multigrade teaching: terms and conditions In multigrade teaching, teachers are responsible, within a timetabled period, for instruction across two or more curriculum grades. In `one-teacher' schools, the teacher is responsible for teaching across five or six grades of the curriculum. In twoor three-teacher schools the teacher is responsible for teaching across two or more curriculum grades. In monograde teaching, by contrast, teachers are responsible, within a timetabled period, for instruction of a single curriculum grade. In many monograde classes, teachers teach the same content at the same time to all children; in others, teachers group children according to their levels of achievement. Despite the achievement differentiation, students are regarded, for curriculum and school organisation purposes, as enrolled in the same curriculum grade of schooling. Multigrade teaching arises in schools operating under several conditions. These include: (i) Schools in areas of low population density

where schools are widely scattered and inaccessible and enrolments low; (ii) Schools that comprise a cluster of classrooms in different locations, in which some classes are multigrade for the same reasons as (i), and some are monograde; (iii) Schools in areas of population decline, where previously there was monograde teaching, and where, now, only a small number of teachers are employed in the schools, necessitating multigrade teaching; (iv) Schools in areas of population growth and school expansion, where enrolments in the expanding upper grades remain small; (v) Schools in areas where parents send their children to more popular schools within reasonable travel distance, leading to a decline in the number of students and teachers in the less popular school; (vi) Schools in which the official number of teachers deployed justifies monograde teaching but where the actual number deployed is less. The inadequate deployment arises for a number of reasons including low teacher supply, teachers who are posted to a school but who do not report for duty, or teachers on medical or casual leave; (vii) Schools in which the number of students admitted to a class comprise more than one `class group', necessitating a combination of some of them with students in a class group of a different grade; (viii) Schools in which teacher absenteeism is high and `supplementary teacher' arrangements are non-effectual or non-existent; (ix) Schools in which teachers have decided, for pedagogic reasons, to organise students in multigrade rather than monograde groups, often as part of a more general reform of the education system.

2.1. Necessity vs. choice This last condition indicates that while much multigrade teaching arises through necessity (conditions i--viii above), some arises through pedagogic choice (condition ix). Descriptions of

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multigrade teaching settings in the literature often fail to indicate whether they have arisen through necessity or choice. The terms `combination classes', `forced mixed age classes' and `forced mixed grade' usually refer to settings arising through necessity. The terms `vertical grouping', `ungraded', `non graded' and `family grouping' usually refer to settings arising through choice. In recent years there have been several rigorous reanalyses of research on multigrade teaching in industrialised countries, distinguishing multigrade teaching arising from necessity and choice (Veenman 1995, 1997; Mason and Burns, 1997). 2.2. Multigrade and multiage Some researchers use the terms `multigrade' and `multiage' synonymously (see for example Bennet et al., 1983; Pratt, 1986). In education systems where categories of grade and age overlap, this synonymous use may be appropriate. In those industrialised countries where studies of monograde and multigrade teaching have been conducted--including the USA, Canada, England, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden--the vast majority of students enter school at the official school entry age and move through grades without repetition. Hence, the `age' and `grade' identities of students converge. Others, however, distinguish the terms multigrade and multiage. Veenman (1995), for example, describes multigrade classes as those in which children from two or more grades are taught by one teacher in one room at the same time; children follow grade specific curricula and grade-level assignments. Multiage classes, by contrast, deliberately mix age and grade levels and students stay with the same teacher `for a number of years, usually three' (Veenman, 1995:319). While multigrade classes are formed of necessity, often administrative and economic, multiage classes are formed out of a choice based on perceived educational benefits. In many `developing' countries, many students enter school at an age older than the official age of entry. Rates of grade repetition can also be very high. Under these conditions the age range within and between grades is wider than would be found

in a system where students enter school at the official entry age and where repetition is low or absent. In such settings the synonymous use of the terms multigrade and multiage is inappropriate. Indeed, in some countries, where access to education is constrained, multiage teaching strategies obviate the need for multigrade teaching. The practice is for teachers to admit a group of children to school only when sufficient are available. Children of multiple ages enter school together and are then taught as if they were a single grade group. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) primary schools of Bangladesh provide a good example. In rural communities a BRAC school is established when approximately 30 children aged between 5 and 10 years have been identified. These children enter school together and are then taught together as if they were a monograde curriculum group (Ahmed et al., 1993). This example of multiage teaching is to be distinguished from multiage class groups, referred to above, that are formed for pedagogical and social reasons (Veenman, 1995; Bacharach et al., 1995).

3. The practice of multigrade teaching 3.1. Cases of multigrade teaching in developing countries Several reviews of the practice of multigrade teaching are available (e.g. UNESCO/APEID, 1989; Birch and Lally, 1995; Little, 1995). Little (1995) identified and reviewed documentation on five examples of multigrade teaching in practice. These were: in Zambia, a teacher education and support programme for multigrade schools in rural areas; in Colombia, the Escuela Nueva programme: in Peru, NGO programmes for training indigenous and bilingual intercultural teachers; in Sri Lanka, teacher-educator-led developments at the school level; in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Jamaica, Liberia and Bangladesh, the Instructional Management by Parents, Community and Teachers (IMPACT) system of mass primary education which uses strategies of relevance to multigrade settings. In all five examples educational settings in dis-


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advantaged rural areas with low populations were addressed. In some the multigrade reality was recognised by national level authorities as a legitimate area of enquiry for teacher educators and teacher trainees. In others, recognition and legitimacy were provided by NGOs and teacher selfhelp groups. 3.2. Strategies for multigrade teaching Teacher training was the main strategy adopted in the approach to multigrade teaching in the examples above. And in all cases this training was undertaken at the local level. Several additional strategies of support for teachers also seemed to be important. These included the design, reproduction and distribution of large quantities of self-study materials to support individual, peer and small group learning; a system of evaluating learning progress and achievement; and forms of internal school and class organisation that establish routines for students independently of the teacher. 3.3. Curriculum and timetabling practices These and other writings have identified a number of strategies that teachers adopt in their approach to the multigrade curriculum. Describing the Zambian teacher education programme, Lungwangwa (1989) reports three approaches to timetabling the curriculum. In the common timetable, all children learn the same subject in a given timetable period. Each group follows its own work according to grade level. In the subject stagger strategy, subjects are staggered on the timetable. Groups learn different subjects in the same period. Subjects requiring high teacher­pupil contact are matched with those requiring little. In the subject grouping strategy, subjects are presented to all grade groups together at the same time: music, art, religious knowledge and social studies lend themselves well to this option. Daniel (1988), writing from the context of teaching core French in elementary schools in Canada, reiterates Lungwangwa's first strategy. He describes his preferred strategy as common activities and reduction of grade-related sequential work. This means increasing the activities in which

both groups of learners can engage together and reduce the amount of grade-related sequential work. Such activity is underpinned by a reorganisation of the curriculum, with an emphasis on the learning outcomes expected at different stages of the curriculum. Teachers require a thorough knowledge of the curriculum and outcomes expected across grades. Laukkanen and Selventoinen (1978) describe a year course experiment based on a spiral curriculum approach that allows the same general topic to be covered at the same time in up to four combined year groups, with each group studying the topic at its own appropriate level. The production of suitable instructional materials is key to the success of this strategy. Mason and Burns (1996) identify two main approaches adopted by multigrade teachers. The first is the teaching of the whole class for all subjects. The second is a `mixed approach' in which maths and reading were taught separately to different grade groups, and social science and science were taught in whole classes. In their survey of teaching strategies among multigrade teachers in the Philippines, Miguel and Basarga (1997) identified three strategies. In the first, the `skill' subjects are taught separately in each grade level, with art and music taught to the `whole class'. In the second, skill subjects are taught by ability group, irrespective of grade level. In the third, basic skills are taught to the whole class, with students splitting into ability groups for extension skills. 3.4. Manuals of multigrade teaching A few manuals written specifically to assist multigrade teachers are available (e.g. Collingwood, 1991; Miller, 1989; Shabnam, 1998; Commonwealth Secretariat, 1997). We suspect that many more are available and in a variety of languages. However, these are not readily accessible to wide audiences. 3.5. Cases of multigrade teaching in industrialised countries The introduction of multigrade or `vertically grouped' classes in many English primary schools

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in urban and rural areas in the 1960s and 1970s was part of a broader reform of the philosophy and pedagogy of primary education (DES, 1967). In Sweden too, there was a revival of interest in multigrade teaching in the 1970s in urban as well as rural areas. A 1976 government bill encouraged `age integration' for the benefit of student development. New curricula were introduced, removing gradewise divisions and stressing interage cooperation (Malmros and Noelen, 1984). Laukkanen and Selventoinen (1978) describe how, in Finland, where multigrade schools are common, innovations in teaching and curriculum strategies developed in multigrade schools are seen as fertile ground for the development of ideas in monograde schools. In Victoria, one of Australia's most populous states, policymakers decided that schools would employ multigrade teaching during the first three years of primary schooling, in the belief that `multigrade teaching was . . . the best form of education for children' (Birch and Lally, 1995:13). In England, although many urban schools adopted `vertical grouping' as part of a broader reform of primary education, by the 1980s multigrade teaching was increasingly being adopted by schools through force of circumstance and falling rolls rather than choice (Bennet et al., 1983). 4. Research on multigrade teaching The policy and practice context of multigrade research varies from country to country, and this will have influenced the way in which research is constructed, questions posed, results analysed and conclusions drawn. Most research on multigrade teaching has focused on its impact on students' learning. A more limited set of studies has explored the prevalence, location and "invisibility" of multigrade teaching. Reviews of research have raised questions about the inappropriateness of comparisons between multigrade and monograde teaching. 4.1. Research contexts In industrialised countries much of the research on multigrade teaching examines its effectiveness

compared with monograde teaching. The need for this comparison arises in the context of falling enrolments among rural populations which have already achieved universal enrolment in primary education. The policy issue lying behind the research is usually economic. The per student unit costs of multigrade schools are often higher than monograde schools. Those who advocate cost-savings highlight the high costs of keeping open small multigrade schools, the cost-efficiency of transporting students to adjacent schools and, sometimes, the negative achievement and social effects of multigrade on students. Those who defend the continuation of multigrade schools stress the role of the primary school in the life of the community in general, as well as the benefits, especially social, for students learning in multigrade structures. The outcome to which such research contributes eventually is often school closure. Less common, but notable nonetheless, is a policy discussion on pedagogy. Multigrade teaching is presented as a powerful pedagogical tool for promoting independent and individualised learning. In Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, for example, some argue that multigrade classrooms offer exciting and challenging arenas for learning, and potentially viable sites for high quality education. Others have cast multigrade classrooms as "unfortunate remnants and reminders of times past" in which students cannot possibly receive an education equal in quality to that provided in monograde classrooms (Mulcahy, 1993:28). In Sweden, the context in which research is conducted is generally favourable to multigrade teaching. It is not dominated by considerations of costs (Malmros and Sahlin, 1992). In developing countries, the population context of much research on multigrade teaching is also rural and sparse. However, these small populations are often growing rather than declining. General population growth and increased participation in schooling among communities that have not yet achieved full participation in primary education give rise to schools where the nearest school is distant, where facilities are limited and to which teachers resist posting. If `Education for All' is to be achieved then the establishment and continuation of schools with multigrade classes must


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be encouraged. The policy question is not whether multigrade schools should be closed and students accommodated in monograde schools. It is whether multigrade schools can be supported to offer learning opportunities for all in situations where the alternative is no access to education. Significantly, much of the available research on multigrade teaching in developing countries is sponsored by bilateral and multilateral development agencies. Differences in the context of multigrade teaching in industrialised and developing countries also mean that the characteristics of comparison groups used in research vary. Because students tend to enter school at different ages in many developing countries, and because grade repetition is common, age and grade are not congruent. Hence, "experimental" and "control" groups may include students of varying ages and varying exposure to schooling. Moreover, the characteristics of comparison groups vary. Sometimes comparisons are made between students in multigrade and monograde schools, sometimes with schools which purport to be monograde but which have fewer teachers than grades, and sometimes with schools where there is only one teacher for all grades. Rarely do comparisons include groups of non-students, i.e. children with no access to schooling. Only rarely does research on multigrade teaching in developing countries arise as part of a discussion about pedagogy. Cost-savings often feature in the discussion, though usually in response to questions raised by donor agencies external to the country. And, in contrast to the cost arguments rehearsed in North America and Europe, multigrade is often presented as a strategy for rather than against cost-saving. 4.2. Student learning outcomes of multigrade and monograde teaching Over the past fifteen years there have been five major reviews of research on multigrade teaching and one cumulative series of studies based on a major multigrade teaching innovation. The research question underpinning most of this research has been the relative effects of multigrade

and monograde teaching on student learning outcomes. 4.2.1. Pratt (1986) Pratt (1986) reviewed experimental studies conducted between 1948 and 1983 in the USA and Canada. The classes included in his review covered an age range of 2­3 years. The outcome measures were cognitive (achievement levels in maths and reading) and non-cognitive (including friendship patterns, self-concept and self-esteem, social development). While identifying a number of methodological limitations of the studies included in the review, Pratt concluded that there was no consistent pattern to the findings on cognitive outcomes. Some researchers reported higher cognitive outcomes for students in multigrade classes, some for monograde classes, while the majority of studies found no differences. The pattern of findings on non-cognitive outcomes was more consistent. Researchers either reported in favour of multigrade classes or reported no difference. None of the studies reported social developmental advantages in favour of monograde classes. 4.2.2. Miller (1991) In his review of 21 studies from the USA, Miller (1991) confirms Pratt's general findings. Students in multigrade classes tended to perform as well as students in monograde classes. Multigrade students generally outperformed their single-grade counterparts on affective and non-cognitive outcomes. 4.2.3. Thomas and Shaw (1992) Thomas and Shaw (1992) move beyond the USA and Canada to include studies from Europe and developing countries, including India, Pakistan and Togo. Acknowledging the scant evidence from developing countries they conclude that in general multigrade schools are as effective in terms of cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes as single-grade schools. But adequate implementation of multigrade programmes is essential. Students in multigrade schools which fail to implement multigrade programmes well "tend not to perform as well as their counterparts in single grade schools" (Thomas and Shaw, 1992:11).

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4.2.4. Veenman (1995) Veenman's (1995) extensive and rigorous review of available research world-wide distinguishes results in different types of multigrade school and class. The review compares the cognitive and non-cognitive effects of multigrade and single-grade classes, on the one hand, and multiage and single-age classes, on the other. The review yielded no evidence for the assumption that student learning may `suffer in multigrade and multi-age classrooms' (Veenman, 1995:319). It is important to note, however, that the pattern of results from studies on developing countries reported in Veenman's review is not the same as that found for other countries. The developing country studies appeared only in the comparisons of multigrade and single-grade classes. Of the 38 studies of cognitive outcomes 20 were conducted in the USA, three in Germany and the Netherlands, two in England, Canada, Finland and Sweden and one in each of Togo, Colombia, Burkina Faso and Pakistan. Of the 17 studies of noncognitive outcomes, 11 were conducted in the USA, two in Western Australia, and one in each of Germany, Canada, Finland and Colombia. The studies from Burkina Faso and Togo (Jarousse and Mingat, 1991) and Colombia (Rojas and Castillo, 1988) displayed cognitive effects in favour of students in multigrade schools, while the fourth, from Pakistan (Rowley, 1992) displayed effects in favour of monograde schools. The Colombian study showed no differences in terms of students' self-concept. 4.2.5. Mason and Burns (1997) Mason and Burns (1997) pursue the threefold distinction made by Veenman (1995) between (i) multigrade classes formed of imbalanced or inadequate enrolments, (ii) single-grade classes, formed as part of traditional schooling, and (iii) multiage/non-graded classes, formed for pedagogical or philosophical reasons. Using the term `combination classes' to describe `multigrade classes' they suggest that other researchers have merged combination classes with multiage or non-graded classes. They also suggest that students are often assigned to combination classes purposively rather than randomly, and that higher-achieving students

are more often assigned purposively to combination classes. Mason and Burns (1997) confirm that generally students in combination and single-grade classes show no achievement differences. But by drawing together findings from observational research, interviews with practitioners and studies in which selection bias was naturally controlled, they suggest that, other things being equal, combination classes have small negative effects. This position is subsequently challenged by Veenman (1997). He claims that there is evidence for neither the negative effects nor the selection bias. 4.2.6. The Escuela Nueva programme Research conducted on Colombia's Escuela Nueva programme is the most comprehensive, systematic and rigorous programme of research in a developing country context conducted to date. The key features of Escuela Nueva are (i) its flexible, rather than automatic, promotion system, (ii) its rural-oriented curriculum, and (iii) its instructional materials designed for self-study and individualised learning. An evaluation conducted in 1987 by the Ministry of Education in Colombia examined the achievement of Grade 3 and Grade 5 students in Maths and Spanish among a sample of 3033 students drawn from 168 Escuela Nueva and 60 traditional rural schools. The `traditional' schools are described as monograde, following a national curriculum, providing no special attention to slow learners and not stimulating the students through special materials (Psacharopoulos et al., 1993; Colbert et al., 1993; Colbert, 1999). The mean scores showed that the Grade 3 Escuela Nueva students scored higher in Spanish and Maths. Grade 5 students scored more highly in Spanish, but there was little difference in Maths. To address the criticism that differences in mean scores can disguise the effect of a wide range of factors on school achievement, Psacharopoulos et al. (1993) reanalysed the data using an education production function that included student, family, school and teacher characteristics. The school effects remained strong even after taking these factors into account. The Colombian studies also examined measures of creativity, civic behaviour and self-esteem.


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Early evaluations had credited the programme with positive effects on self-esteem and civic behaviour, but had found no difference between students in the Escuela Nueva schools and the traditional schools on measures of creativity (Colbert et al., 1993). The more complex analysis of the same data performed by Psacharopoulos et al. (1993) confirmed the positive effect for civic behaviour and null effect for creativity but not the positive effect for self-esteem. McEwan (1998) replicated the school effects on achievement using a subsequent and more representative data set. Even though the New Schools were particularly well endowed with textbooks and libraries, the school effects on achievement remained strong even after controlling for the effects of textbooks and a library. In a discussion of policy implications, he concluded that the Escuela Nueva programme may be a good example of holistic, qualitative change, rather than the application of interchangeable and discrete physical inputs. Pointing to the possibility of synergies among various components of the programme, he called for new research to understand synergistic change at the classroom level. In-service training for teachers played a key role in capacity-building for teachers and the programme more generally. Noting the considerable amount of variation in the behaviours of teachers in the programme, Benveniste and McEwan (2000) concluded that teacher `will and commitment' appears to be an important explanation of the adoption of the new pedagogy. 4.3. The prevalence of multigrade teaching Neither Ministries of Education nor international agencies such as UNESCO collect information about the numbers of teachers and students learning and teaching in multigrade settings routinely. Information on its prevalence is scant. Given the non-routine and non-standard nature of data collected it is difficult to estimate prevalence across time and country. Earlier compilations of the incidence of one-teacher schools, of multigrade schools, classes and teachers, and of students in multigrade classes have summarised the known situation in the late 1950s and late 1980s respect-

ively (UNESCO, 1961; Little, 1995; Veenman, 1995). In India in 1986, over 300,000 primary schools were either one- or two-teacher schools, representing more than 60% of all schools (Little, 1995). A more recent estimate suggests that by 1996 84% of primary schools had three teachers or less, of whom 95% were in rural areas (Gupta et al., 1996). Almost all, some 94%, had four teachers or less, to cover a five-grade curriculum, suggesting that most teachers faced the need for multigrade teaching for some part of the day. Alternatively, teachers may have organised classes into monograde shifts and reduced the length of the school day for students. The report by Gupta et al. does not indicate which strategy was used. In Sri Lanka, where rural population densities are higher, the percentage of schools with small numbers of teachers is lower, but still significant in a country that has achieved near-universal enrolment in primary school. The most recent data available suggest that some 63% of all schools have four or less teachers (Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Sri Lanka, 1999). Since schools are not classified as primary or secondary, and since the span of primary education covers five grades taught in a single shift, then we may infer that many thousands of teachers are teaching across grades for some part of each day. This inference would be invalid, however, if teachers were only teaching some grades and neglecting students in other grades for large portions of the school day. In Peru there are 27,580 public primary schools. Of these, some 78% are multigrade schools. Only 22% may be considered `complete teacher' schools. Of the multigrade schools 41% have only one teacher, and 59% have more than one teacher (see Hargreaves et al., 2001). The vast majority of multigrade schools, some 89%, are located in rural areas (Ministerio de Educacion, 1998). In Vietnam in 1999 there were 14,642 primary schools, of which 2599 (17%) had at least one multigrade class. The percentage of students receiving instruction in multigrade classes was 1.9% of the total primary school enrolment (Vietnam MOET, 1999). Multigrade classes and schools are common also in the rural areas of industrialised countries. In the

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Northern territories of Australia in 1988 40% of schools had multigrade classes. The comparable figure for Sweden in 1987/8 was 35%. In France 22% of classes in schools were classified as multigrade in 1987/8 (Little, 1995). In the United Kingdom in 1997/8 6.3% of schools enrolled less than 50 children, giving rise to multigrade teaching. The incidence of small schools is greater in areas in the UK with more rural and scattered populations. While the incidence of very small schools in England was 3.5%, it was 13.0%, 14.6% and 19.7% in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively (Department for Education and Employment, 1999). While the percentage of teachers involved in multigrade teaching varies from country to country, it is clear that multigrade classes are a reality for significant numbers of teachers in most countries. Moreover, in many countries, there is little reason to suppose that the proportions of teachers who teach in multigrade settings will decline substantially over the coming years. Where primary education for all remains a distant goal, new additions to enrolment are likely to be largely in rural areas where population densities are low and teacher shortages high. In countries where the transition rates from primary to secondary are increasing, the size of the secondary enrolment in some areas will remain too low to justify teaching students in single-subject and single-grade groups. Multigrade classes are likely to become more common in those areas where secondary education has been unavailable hitherto. Multigrade classes are sometimes found also in urban areas of high population density. These are often poor schools from which students are transferring to more popular schools. The grade span of the school remains the same, but the number of students and teachers decline. While the school-age populations of most countries are becoming gradually more concentrated and urban (suggesting a decline in the proportion of multigrade teachers), the proportions of students studying in schools in areas of urban stagnation or decline may well be on the increase, leading to an increase in the number of urban schools with multigrade classes. Finally in those education systems and/or schools where individualised instruction within

grades is common, and where instruction is supported more and more by information and communications technologies, teachers may begin to choose multigrade as their preferred way of grouping children, emphasising its value for children's social development. 4.4. The location of multigrade teaching In all countries multigrade teaching is found mainly in rural areas and arises largely through necessity. Where it arises in urban areas it usually does so through choice, not necessity, and as part of a broader reform of the philosophy and pedagogy of teaching. Accounts of and research on multigrade teaching in rural areas are available for several industrialised countries. These include Australia (King and Young, 1996), Canada (Mulcahy, 1993; Daniel, 1988), England (Galton and Patrick, 1990), Finland (Laukkanen and Selventoinen, 1978), New Zealand (Draisey and Ewing, 1970), and the USA (Miller 1989, 1991; Pratt, 1986). Accounts of and research on multigrade teaching in rural areas is gradually becoming available for several developing countries. These include Burkina Faso (Jarousse and Mingat, 1991), Egypt (Gupta et al., 1996), India (Zaalouk, 1995), Peru (Hargreaves et al., 2001), Philippines (Miguel and Basarga, 1997), Sri Lanka (Hargreaves et al., 2001) Togo (Jarousse and Mingat, 1991); Turks and Caicos Islands (Berry, 2001) and Vietnam (Aikman and Pridmore, 2001; Hargreaves et al., 2001). In the vast majority of the cases described in these studies, the children, teachers, parents, and schools in communities where multigrade teaching is found are more `disadvantaged' socially, economically and educationally on average than in communities in urban areas. 4.4.1. Rural location and poverty The socio-economic characteristics of multigrade teaching settings vary between countries. Although the vast majority of multigrade classes in the education systems of industrialised countries are located in rural settings, this does not mean that children, their teachers, their parents and their schools and communities are disadvantaged soci-


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ally, educationally and economically. While disadvantage is a relative term and must always be analysed in context, and while many teachers in such areas may perceive themselves and their schools to be disadvantaged, it should also be acknowledged that many teachers choose and prefer to teach in such areas. Rural schools in industrialised countries generally have adequate economic resources. Indeed, in industrialised countries it is the high unit cost of maintaining multigrade schools in rural areas that has led to much of the policy debate about the relative merits of multi- and monograde schools and the closure of small rural schools. In `developing countries', by contrast, many of the multigrade classes and schools found in rural areas are economically poor and the level of education of household members is low. Teachers prefer not to be posted to schools in such areas, unless they already have a home or relatives with whom to reside. Since postings to such schools are generally unpopular, a disproportionate number of teachers in such schools have low levels of education and training, or no training at all. The teachers are often young, with little teaching experience. They perceive multigrade teaching as a second-best option and they seek transfers to larger schools with monograde classes nearer to urban centres. 4.4.2. Problems of multigrade teachers in rural locations Throughout the 1980s, members of UNESCO's Asia and Pacific Programme of Educational Innovation for Development (APEID) undertook reviews of the continuing problems faced by multigrade teachers, especially in rural, isolated and sparsely populated areas (e.g. UNESCO/APEID 1981, 1982). It should be noted that the outcomes of these `reviews' are not based on systematically collected evidence and more probably represent collated opinions of teachers, teacher educators and some government officials. The authors of the 1989 report refer to the development of a `psychological alienation' from the school. They also asserted that the problems of multigrade schools in rural areas are exacerbated by the non-filling of vacant teaching positions in rural areas, the absence of teacher accountability and a general

`inattentiveness of education officers to the needs of these teachers and schools' (UNESCO/APEID, 1989:9,11). The authors of APEID's 1995 report refer to the lack of financial incentives, inadequate provision for housing, spouse employment and children's education, absence of promotion incentives and restricted opportunities for in-service training (Birch and Lally, 1995:13). 4.5. The invisibility of multigrade teaching The inattentiveness of education officers to the needs of multigrade schools, referred to above, reflects a more general and systemic problem of the `invisibility' of multigrade teaching. And, as suggested above, multigrade teaching is probably more common than Ministries of Education realise or care to admit. Unless it adopts a double shift system of teaching, a school with more grades (e.g. six grades of primary) than teachers (e.g. four teachers) must organise teaching and learning for some of its teachers and students along multigrade lines for some of the school day. And yet few Ministries of Education, few Curriculum Development Agencies and few Teacher Education Institutions recognise this reality. The knowledge required to work effectively within the multigrade reality appears not to be transmitted via textbooks on curriculum and teaching methods, via syllabi, via teacher's guides, nor via the content and pedagogy of teacher training colleges or universities. The knowledge, orientation and attitude required for effective multigrade teaching are `invisible'. 4.5.1. Education texts: scant reference to the existence and reality of multigrade teaching A brief review (Little, 1995) of standard texts on curriculum development available in one of the best UK-based collections of education texts illustrated the point. Despite the growing interest in `vertical grouping' in England in the 1970s, there was no mention of it in a collection on Aims, Influence and Change in the Primary School Curriculum, edited by Taylor (1975). In 1987 Blenkin and Kelly wrote on The Primary Curriculum: A Process Approach to Curriculum Planning. Again there is no mention of multigrade or terms carrying similar meaning. In Understanding the Pri-

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mary Curriculum, Boyd (1984), writing from an English perspective, discussed school-based curriculum development and the value of a flexible approach to the grouping of children. The problems of coping with special educational needs, ethnic differences, gender and new technology were addressed in the section on `curriculum issues'. Issues faced by teachers in verticallygrouped, multigrade, multiclass and small schools did not warrant a mention. In the sixth edition of the Modern Elementary Curriculum Shepherd and Ragan (1982) referred to the `non-graded schools movement' in the USA, describing its impact as `shortlived'. In their chapter on `curriculum delivery' they make no reference to multigrade teaching groups. More recently published texts demonstrate a similar neglect of multigrade teaching. Effective Curriculum Management, edited by O'Neill and Kitson (1996), examines the role of the curriculum coordinator in schools in England. While there is a passing reference to an example of a small primary school, the specific issues of curriculum management within and between multigrade classes are not addressed. Supporting Change and Development in the Primary School, edited by Sullivan (1991), acknowledges the wide range of contexts within which teachers in England work. It includes two chapters on the specific context of small rural schools. In view of the small proportion of schools and classes in both England and the US in which multigrade teaching occurs, the omission of references to multigrade teaching is understandable. The omission is the more surprising in texts which purport to focus on the conditions of curriculum and teaching in developing countries, or worldwide. In 1986 the National Institute of Educational Research (NIER) in Tokyo undertook a study of the elementary and primary school curriculum in the countries of Asia and the Pacific (NIER, 1986). No country report makes specific mention of multigrade teaching. The text on India, Australia and Nepal includes sections on school organisation, methods of teaching and classroom management. None addresses the implications for these of the multigrade reality. In other words it appears to be a `non-problem'. Although the report on Pakistan

mentions that one of the problems is a lack of teachers trained to handle multiple classes, this issue is not re-addressed in the account of teacher training. The omission continues in Onwuka's (1981) edited collection on Curriculum Development in Africa and Grant's (1978) discussion of School Methods with Younger Children written for an African audience. 4.5.2. Invisibility and neglect Invisibility also means neglect. The APEID report (UNESCO/APEID, 1989) identifies the neglect of educational support systems necessary for multigrade teachers. Primary curriculum documents and their associated lists of `minimum learning competencies' have not been designed specifically for use by teachers in multigrade schools. School plans, instructional materials and methodological guidelines are often difficult to apply to multigrade teaching situations. There is a shortage of support materials for teachers and individualised instructional materials for learners. There is a need for more work on the kinds of continuous evaluation, diagnostic testing, remediation and feedback that would best assist multigrade teaching. Few countries have developed special teacher training curricula for pre- or in-service training. Teaching practice during pre-service is invariably carried out in monograde schools. There is a lack of basic physical facilities in these schools. There is a lack of training for supervisors of multigrade schools. In general, then, it would appear that a monograde organisation of schools remains the taken-forgranted assumption of most of those who research and advise on curriculum development in both developed and developing countries. Multigrade teaching is assumed either not to exist or to do so in such small measure that it defies attention. 4.6. Multigrade teaching vs. no teaching The review by Little (1995) addressed many of the studies included in each of the above with particular emphasis on their implications for developing countries. A number of methodological problems were identified in research studies, especially in the characteristics of comparison groups of students and teachers. The nature and


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purpose of comparisons of multigrade with monograde classes in many developing country situations were questioned. In contexts where the choice for students is between attending a multigrade school or none at all, then comparisons of learning achievement should include groups of non-schoolgoing children. The World Declaration on Education for All, affirmed in Jomtien in 1990 and reinforced in Dakar in 2000, committed governments, organisations and communities to providing opportunities for learning for all. If these commitments are to be realised, many children will find themselves enrolled in multigrade schools and multigrade classes, taught by teachers engaged, for much of their working day, in multigrade teaching. The alternative for these children, in many circumstances, is non-enrolment.

of educational practice and knowledge as more valuable than others. It is symptomatic of both hierarchies that multigrade teaching barely warrants a mention in international and national education research agenda, in teacher education curricula and materials, in priorities attached to training scholarships and in education information networks. The volume of rigorously conducted and reported research on multigrade teaching in developing countries has been much less than in industrialised countries. At the same time, the conditions that give rise to the need for multigrade teaching are more often found in developing countries, suggesting an even more pressing need for both research on and dissemination of its good practice. 5.2. Prevalence and awareness of multigrade teaching The paper has suggested that multigrade teaching may be more prevalent than we realise. Despite its invisibility in the eyes of education managers, it will not disappear from the classroom, and its prevalence in certain settings may even increase. The need for multigrade teaching is likely to arise as often as that for monograde teaching in those remote and isolated environments where the achievement of EFA remains intractable. The following questions arise: What is the extent of multigrade teaching in a country, state, province, district, area? In what types of schools, and in what locations, is it prevalent? Are education managers, planners and teacher educators aware of the various conditions that give rise to the need for multigrade teaching? How many students study in multigrade classes? How many teachers are responsible for teaching more than one grade at the same time for how many hours/days of the school week? What strategies do school administrators use to obviate the need for multigrade teaching (e.g. double shifting, multiage entry)? How much time is spent by children in all schools in all types of graded class `on task'?

5. Towards an international research and policy agenda Much of the foregoing paper points to the need for further systematic research on multigrade teaching and an intensification of the dissemination of good policy and practice in multigrade teaching, especially in developing countries. 5.1. Context-relevant questions Research questions that are likely to generate information of value to education managers must arise from an understanding of specific contexts. The generation of `international research agenda' runs the risk of overlooking questions of enormous importance in a few contexts and of little in many. This does not diminish the value of such agenda. But they place a responsibility on researchers to assess the relevance for the context in question of research agenda generated elsewhere. The paper has suggested that the needs of multigrade teachers and multigrade educational settings have been overlooked by curriculum developers, teacher educators and educational managers. To a large extent, prevailing attitudes to multigrade teaching reflect professional and academic hierarchies which legitimise some types

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5.3. Multigrade teaching and its comparators Although the research and knowledge base in developing countries remains sparse, new research need not necessarily adopt the questions that have guided the research in industrialised countries. Much of the research in industrialised countries arose in the context of declining enrolments in rural areas and the costs of keeping open small schools. Protagonists and antagonists in the policy debates sought evidence for their respective positions from the comparisons of outcomes of multigrade and monograde teaching. But comparisons of the cognitive and non-cognitive benefits to students of multi- and monograde teaching pale into insignificance in settings where there is no schooling at all. In such settings education managers may be faced with a different set of options. These may include (i) multigrade teaching, (ii) monograde teaching in shifts with truncated length of school days, or (iii) delayed entry of students to school to accommodate monograde­ multiage teaching. None of the reported research in industrialised countries examined outcomes under conditions (ii) and (iii). Research comparing the cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes under these three options could provide invaluable information for those who manage the implementation of EFA. The following questions, inter alia, arise: what types of consideration underpin decisions to organise schooling as multigrade, shifted monograde or delayed entry multiage? How much `time on task' do students spend under these different conditions? How much `time on task' do teachers spend under these different conditions? What are the learning outcomes of students under these three conditions? What are the attitudes of teaching to teaching under these three conditions? 5.4. Teachers and teacher education The final question listed in the previous section points to the central role played by teachers in the determination of learning outcomes for students learning in multigrade arrangements. All the examples of widescale programmes of multigrade teaching cited above have emphasised the impor-

tance of teacher attitudes and teacher education. The most recent research on the Colombian Escuela Nueva programme suggested that teacher `will and commitment' appeared to be an important explanation of the adoption of the Escuela Nueva pedagogy. A range of questions, inter alia, arise about teachers and teacher education. Are teachers aware of the various conditions under which the need for multigrade teaching arises? Do teachers have a range of teaching strategies at their disposal to address the need for multigrade teaching and multiability teaching within monograde classrooms? Are we able to identify examples of good practice in multigrade classrooms, especially those in poorly resourced schools and communities? Can teachers be enabled to share their strategies and ideas with other teachers effectively through print and other means? Under what conditions do teacher will and commitment to multigrade teaching arise? What is the quality of the content and delivery of teacher education curricula for multigrade teaching? Do teacher educators who deliver training on multigrade teaching themselves have experience of such teaching? 5.5. Synergy at the classroom level: teachers, curriculum materials, assessment The cases of multigrade practice in disadvantaged rural areas reviewed above pointed to the comprehensive and holistic approach adopted in some of the cases. Teacher education was not the only strategy pursued. Materials development, assessment schemes, and school and classroom organisational practices appeared to be important complementary strategies that provided a synergy at the classroom level. Recent research on the Escuela Nueva programme has also called for new research to understand synergistic change at the classroom level. The following questions, inter alia, arise. What are the implicit assumptions about children's learning that lie behind current modes of organising learning curricula by grade? Are curriculum developers aware of these? Are there alternative modes of organising and presenting curricula that embrace the needs of multigrade teachers as well as monog-


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rade teachers? Can learning materials, especially textbooks, be designed in such a way that they may be used by students even in the absence of the teacher? Can assessment schemes for students to assess their developmental progress across grades and to increase awareness among teachers about expected learning outcomes of students across several grades? Could these be used also by teachers in monograde classrooms? Might assessment schemes provide the necessary structure for the organisation of curricula and learning materials? If these were linked with individual progress might curricula be offered in a more open and flexible form to meet the needs of children living and working in a very wide range of socio-economic contexts worldwide? 5.6. Multigrade: a specific or general problem for educational research and practice? There are at least two ways of approaching research agenda for multigrade teaching. One approach is to start from the distinction used in the literature to date between multigrade and monograde teaching and focus on improved ways of meeting the needs of multigrade teachers, especially of multigrade teachers who find themselves teaching in multigrade classes of necessity. This was the approach adopted by Little (1995) in the generation of questions for policymakers, practitioners and researchers at the national, district and classroom level, especially in developing countries. It is a sound approach that draws the attention of policymakers and practitioners and researchers to the problems and needs of teachers working at the margins of education systems. It is also the approach adopted in 5.1 to 5.5 above. However, like so many that focus on the needs of the poorest and the most marginal, such agenda tend to have impact on ideas and action only as long as specific and often `ring-fenced' technical and financial resources are attached to them. Financial and technical support for the development of schools at the margin of education mainstreams remain elusive for as long as decision makers at the centre of education and academic hierarchies either fail to perceive the problem or regard it as a special or separate problem too awkward to

address. Attention remains focused on the needs of the majority of more typical schools or the needs of a minority of popular and prestigious schools. A second approach is to start from the recognition that multigrade teaching is, in principle, if not always in practice, a strategy required by all teachers in all classes in all schools in all countries. All monograde classes comprise learners of varying abilities, interests, backgrounds, and ages. All monograde classes comprise learners of multigrades of ability, multigrades of interests, multigrades of social background and multiages. Although the degree of variation of abilities, interests and ages may be less than in a multigrade classroom, the variation is still considerable. Add to this the reality that many monograde schools have high rates of teacher absenteeism and an absence of cover for absent teachers, and the needs of all teachers for multigrade teaching strategies and curriculum materials to support such strategies become easily apparent. Millions of teachers worldwide engage in whole-class teaching of monograde classes as if all students' learning needs are the same. Few allowances are made in teaching strategy for students who attend irregularly, fail to keep up with their study, or who would benefit from supplementary or extension study or accelerated promotion to the next grade. The absence of training in and knowledge of how to work in such an environment leaves teachers unable to provide even a minimum basic education and many children unsupported and `idle' for much of the school day. Despite the rhetoric of learner-centred activitybased pedagogy worldwide, teacher-centred pedagogy underpins the practices of teaching and learning in hundreds of thousands of classrooms worldwide. Learner-centred pedagogy, whether in monoor multigraded classrooms, takes variation in abilities, interests and backgrounds for granted. Individual, group and whole-class teaching is adopted at different times of the day to meet different ends. The similarities and differences in learner needs are embraced by teaching strategies in which the distribution of tasks and expectations can be differentiated within a curriculum and materials structure which itself allows for extension and remediation activity. In principle, young teachers,

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trained to regard single curriculum grade classes as comprising different learner needs, can make the transition to teaching multigrade classes fairly easily. Within such an approach many of the questions posed above about multigrade may be reformulated with respect to both multigrade and monograde teaching arrangements. The common denominator is the need to find ways to address the needs of individual learners within group settings. And the need is not specific to poor, developing countries. Calls for reform in the arrangements for teaching and learning are apparent in developed country contexts too. To date, the call for reform has involved a move away from multigrade teaching within a framework of graded curricula, graded textbooks and graded testing, and towards a multiage framework that celebrates diversity and flexibility and deliberately integrates children socially and academically into a single learning community (e.g. Mulcahy, 1999). The co-existence of social groups and individualised teaching and learning has characterised many effective arenas for learning over the centuries. These have included familybased learning, classrooms in which learnercentred pedagogies are practised effectively, guild master and apprentice relationships, and various religious knowledge teaching arrangements. Increasingly, in those classrooms where information and communication technologies can be afforded and are well-utilised, the role of the teacher is changing rapidly from transmitter of knowledge and skills to large-group learning to manager and facilitator of individual and smallgroup learning. The achievement of Education for All by all learners may well depend on the ability of all teachers to practice multigrade teaching.


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